Dawgs beat Vols 78-68, completing season sweep of UT

Georgia freshman Kenny Gaines only played 8 minutes on Saturday, but he made the most of his time on the floor late in the game against the Vols. With Tennessee trailing UGA 50-45 and under 6 minutes remaining in the game, Charles Mann found Gaines in the corner where the frosh cooly buried a three-pointer, putting UGA back up by 8 points.

Gaines hit another monster three from the baseline minutes later, helping to extend the Dawgs’ lead to 62-50 with less than 3 minutes remaining.

Kenny put the stamp on the UGA victory by finishing a three-point play the old fashioned way off of another assist from Mann, giving Georgia a 67-58 advantage with only 1:25 left.

Prior to tip-off in this one, Fox had listed Gaines as a “game time” decision – thankfully, Gaines’s heel bruise seemed good enough to play on and Kenny was able to play a major role in Dawgs’ win.

A major concern for Georgia heading into today’s game with Tennessee centered on dealing with the Vols’ star point guard, Trae Golden, who had been scoring 19 points per game during the team’s recent six-game winning streak.

Charles Mann – UGA’s freshman point guard – stepped up and played his best game of the season while taking Golden completely out of his game. On offense, Mann took the ball right at Golden en route to the rim at nearly every opportunity, getting to the line for 14 free throw attempts (of which he made 12). Mann’s aggressiveness led to a career high 18 points to go along with 8 assists, and he had Golden in foul trouble for the entire game.

Defensively, the 6’4″ freshman was too tough for UT’s point guard, limiting the smaller Golden to merely 4 points on an abysmal 1 for 10 shooting performance.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had his hands full on defense for much of the afternoon as he was matched up on Jordan McRae, who finished up with 35 points before fouling out.

However, KCP gave Georgia another excellent effort inside Stegeman today, scoring 25 points and grabbing 9 boards – just one short of his fifth double-double of the year.

UGA did an excellent job inside dealing with the UT bigs, who came into this contest with some of the better rebounding numbers in the SEC. Georgia outrebounded Tennessee by a count of 38-34, and the Dawgs scored 30 points in the paint to the Vols’ 14.

The win today puts Georgia at 8-8 in the conference and 14-15 overall, giving UGA a realistic shot of getting into this season’s NIT Tournament, should they manage to win another game or two.

This loss may have devastating consequences for Tennessee as the Vols have now dropped two games to the Dawgs (RPI 141), and I imagine they will find themselves on the outside of the NCAA Bubble tomorrow morning.

For Georgia, showing the ability to bounce back from such a difficult loss at Vandy on Wednesday to grab a victory against a very hot team displays a lot of maturity.

The atmosphere inside the Steg this afternoon was energetic as the home crowd of nearly 10,000 fans enthusiastically voiced their support of this young Bulldog team.

I anticipate an even bigger crowd on Thursday night when Georgia hosts the John Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats.

Georgia looking to bounce back at home against red-hot Vols

Since enjoying a five-game winning streak that saw their conference record boost to 6-4, Georgia has been slumping as of late, losing four of the past five contests. Three of those losses – Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vandy – came on the road, and all ended in heartbreaking fashion for Coach Mark Fox and his team. In each of those three games, Georgia had an opportunity to win at the end, but they failed to do so.

In the middle of February, the Dawgs seemed poised to avoid the opening round of Wednesday games in this year’s SEC Basketball Tournament. However, the loss to Vandy coupled with the difficulty of UGA’s remaining schedule has left the door open for the possibility of Georgia ending up with one of the dreaded bottom four seeds. The Dawgs wrap up SEC play with games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, all of whom are currently sitting on or around the NCAA bubble, meaning they can ill-afford a loss to a team like Georgia (RPI of 141). Each one of these opponents will be trying to avoid a letdown against UGA, and the Dawgs should receive an intense effort from all of these squads.

On Saturday, UGA will host the hottest team in the conference – Tennessee – for a rematch inside Stegeman. Since losing to Georgia back on February 6th in Knoxville, the Vols have reeled off six-straight wins, including upsets of Kentucky, and most recently, Florida.

When Georgia and Tennessee first met last month, the Vols were without starting point guard Trae Golden, who was dealing with a hamstring injury. In the 68-62 home loss to the Dawgs, Tennessee struggled offensively without their primary ball handler, turning it over 13 times.

Since returning to Coach Martin’s lineup, Golden – a junior from Powder Springs, GA – has been sensational, scoring nearly 19 points per game to go along with 4 rebounds and 1 SEC Player of the Week award.

Tennessee’s other two stars – Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes – have been playing out of their minds lately as well. Over the past 6 games, McRae has been averaging 20 points a night, and he ranks third in the league in conference scoring at 18.3 per contest.

On the inside, Stokes has owned the glass, leading all SEC players at 10.5 boards per league game. Stokes has registered 12 double-doubles already this season, and he is a major reason why the Vols have outrebounded opponents in 11 of the past 12 games.

In a cruel twist of fate, Georgia may be without freshman Kenny Gaines once again on Saturday as he is still dealing with a deep heel bruise – he will be a game time decision, per Coach Mark Fox. Gaines was instrumental in UGA’s win at Tennessee last month, sparking his team with 12 points off the bench.

If Gaines cannot go for Fox, Georgia will need Charles Mann, Brandon Morris and Neme Djurisic to step up and provide offensive support to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will most likely be blanketed by Vols’ defenders all afternoon.